Do you remember what Elton John sang at the end of the “Captain Fantastic” album, in the song named “Curtains” – “Just like us/you must have had/ a once upon a time”. If you don’t, there is not an album that will bring that to mind better (and worse, I am afraid) than “Our Time In Eden”. The Maniacs’ final studio album with Natalie is one of the most poignant farewells you can listen to.
Broken feelings litter the album. Lost friendships abound: “Noah’s Dove” is a final portrayal of lost innocence, and the same applies to “How You’ve Grown” and “Stockton Gala Days”, albeit from different vantage points. The former laments the way we often take innocence for granted in the younger ones, and the latter deals with the shame of hiding innocence lost to someone the singer still deems as pure.
“Stockton Gala Days”. Future singer Mary Ramsey is playing viola:
“These Are Days” is one of the few songs in my discography that truly moves me. I want to ask you, is it really a sad or an uplifting song? My point is, it describes so much joy (“These are days you’ll remember/never before or since I promise/ will the whole world be warm as this”) that the inevitable thought that arises in me is what comes after that? When you go that deep, when you feel as whole, is it not then you become more breakable? More brittle? The song after it (“Eden”) answers that question to me. “The clock is another demon/that devours our time in Eden”. You can treasure days, you can treasure what you want. But treasures are meant to be buried, and believe me that you are burying them someplace in your soul that not even yourself will be able to access later on.
On the other hand, there is a set of songs that give a view on society which complements the inner disillusionment the foregoing songs enshrined. “I’m Not The Man” is a masterful depiction of injustice and mass stupidity, while both “Candy Everybody Wants” and “Tolerance” show us that society measures relevance with the fist that is clenched tighter, and not with the hand that is stretched as far as possible.
Michael Stipe & Natalie Merchant sing “Candy Everybody Wants”:
A song that takes the mistrust for institutions expressed on previous compositions like “My Sister Rose” and “Gun Shy” (both from “In My Tribe”) is “Jezebel”, in which the character comes to the realization that no one is as damaging as the one who could show the most affection. I have read someplace that hatred is actually the deepest form of love. If we apply it to this specific case, emptiness becomes the most thorough form of completeness.
There are two composition I haven’t mentioned yet: “Few And Far Between” (a minor hit – “These Are Days” was one, too), and “If You Intend”. These are sister tunes to me, even structurally-speaking. The same message is conveyed: “I am ready to go on, I am ready to be happy, I am ready to be something. And you?”. “Few And Far Between” posits that while the other does not drop its heavy baggage the ride won’t be something they both could undertake. But remember, time doesn’t last. And what time we have ends up gulping on what was once ours.
What do you do then? What solace is there as we grow older and apart from each other – our friends, relatives, those we thought we could love forever? Each individual must draw his or her own conclusions. Is the answer a circle dream? Or is that circle dream the question that should be broken? Think it over. But don’t look for every answer here. You can, however, look for a shoulder. The Maniacs have always been good for that. And even when one of the main members is saying goodbye, we know they will never leave us to our own devices. There is a difference between being with someone, and being part of someone. If you never learnt that, it is not too late. The Maniacs will show you. The rest is up to you. But from that point onwards you will have the power of showing others such a difference exists. And that is a gift. The gift Natalie gave them when she departed from the band, and the gift that she has given us all throughout her career.